Character important for success

Do you remember being disappointed about something as a kid and having a well-meaning adult tell you not to worry – that disappointments build character?

Those words of wisdom are not always welcomed when in the throes of some childish catastrophe, but they are wise nonetheless.

Author and speaker Paul Tough has recently published a book on the subject – How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.

According to Tough, it is character more than IQ and standardized test scores that determines an individual’s success - and I agree with him.

Character is made up of a variety of non-cognitive qualities including perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control. They have to do with a person’s ability to adapt, to work through disappointment and failure and to set and reach goals.

In today’s world it often seems as though these skills are overlooked in favour of teaching children to master the more easily measured abilities prized in the school setting – reading, writing, math and science. Ask any parent of a pre-school or school aged child and you will no doubt get an ear-full about their child’s progress in mastering language, reading and numbers. To be sure, these academic pursuits are important, but they do not define a person’s overall ability to succeed in the world.

More recent research indicates that although IQ and cognitive ability are part of the package, temperament or character traits are also critical and we ought to be spending more time thinking about how to develop these skills in our children.

In Tough’s book, he highlights the research by several American and Canadian scientists in the field and also follows the stories of children and the educators helping them.

He points out that one of the primary ways we develop skills like persistence is through failure – something from which we go to great lengths to shield our children.

Recently there has been much media attention surrounding the ‘no-zero’ policies within school systems in different parts of our country. These well-intentioned policies aim to give everyone the chance to succeed but they have stirred up controversy partly because they don’t reflect the way things work in the rest of life.

It is inevitable that we will not always get what we want – that we won’t be good at everything we try – that disappointment is part of the human experience. An absolutely vital part of parenting, teaching and coaching is to teach our children how to manage negative experiences, to take away the lessons when they need to and put things behind them when necessary too.

Although it is right to want to protect our kids from too much disappointment, there are times when we need to stand back a little and let them fall down so they can learn to pick themselves back up.


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